Thursday, February 9, 2012

sweet heart cookies

I baked a big batch of heart-shaped sugar cookies the other night and froze them in anticipation of both children having friends over to play yesterday. (It was supposed to be grim weather, but I think my (fabulous) snow day activity pinboard is keeping winter at bay this year...nice.) Anyway, I hemmed and hawed and bookmarked all of these healthier options for my older son's class snack...but the cookies were already made and if you ask two 8-year-olds and two 5-year-olds if they'd like to decorate the cookies and put them back into the freezer for next week and make a healthier snack for tomorrow, I'll let you guess the answer. So, delicious homemade cookies went into school today, balanced out with two red fruit and veggie snacks: bell pepper slices and mini red fruit skewers.

If you've been reading my blog long enough, you know that I love to let my kids get in on the decorating action-- as long as there's a rimmed baking sheet handy. I am only so loose, you know...

I picked up a bunch of India Tree sugars and natural decorating colors at our local market. They are pricey, but the beet juice (which makes the red gel red) cannot be beat in terms of ingredients and creating a gorgeous pink.

Cut-Out Sugar Cookies

2 sticks of butter, softened
1 cup of white sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla
Zest of 1 lime (or orange or lemon, optional but adds nice flavor)
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

wax and parchment paper
rimmed baking sheets

In a mixing bowl, combine softened butter, sugar and egg. Using a hand mixer, beat at medium speed, until creamy. Add the vanilla and citrus zest; mix well. Reduce speed to low; add flour and baking powder. Beat until well mixed.Divide dough into thirds. Wrap each in wax paper and refrigerate until firm (2 to 3 hours). 

When you are reading to do the baking, preheat oven to 350°F.* Roll out dough on lightly floured surface, one-third at a time (keeping remaining dough refrigerated), to 1/8- to 1/4-inch thickness and then cut with your favorite cookie cutters. Place 1 inch apart onto a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 6 to 10 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. For best results, let the cookies cool before decorating.

*If you are not up for rolling and cutting out shapes, simply roll small balls with your hands (flattening them slightly so they don’t roll all over when you’re walking to the oven) and place them 1” apart on the baking sheet. Then bake 8-10 minutes, until edges are lightly browned.

Royal Icing (great for decorating cookies)Keep in mind that this frosting needs to be used immediately or stored in an airtight container as it hardens quickly when exposed to air! I make each child a zip-loc baggie of frosting, squeeze all of the air out, and then cut a tiny hole in one corner, so it’s their own “pastry bag”. This frosting can also be colored with food coloring, or the food coloring gels available at most markets.

4 cups powdered sugar 
3 tablespoons meringue (egg white) powder 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla or lemon extract (optional)
1/2 - 3/4 cup warm water (add the water until desired consistency)
I mix by hand, adding liquid until I reach the desired consistency—not rock hard, but not too runny either. Keep in mind that if you’re adding food coloring, that is a liquid too so you’ll want to add it before pouring in all of the allotted water to avoid the frosting getting too runny. Runny is still tasty but it’s messy, and takes a loooong time to harden!

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